Conversion of Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) into Functional Spinal and Cranial Motor Neurons Using PiggyBac Vectors

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


We describe here a method to obtain functional spinal and cranial motor neurons from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Direct conversion into motor neuron is obtained by ectopic expression of alternative modules of transcription factors, namely Ngn2, Isl1 and Lhx3 (NIL) or Ngn2, Isl1 and Phox2a (NIP). NIL and NIP specify, respectively, spinal and cranial motor neuron identity. Our protocol starts with the generation of modified iPSC lines in which NIL or NIP are stably integrated in the genome via a piggyBac transposon vector. Expression of the transgenes is then induced by doxycycline and leads, in 5 days, to the conversion of iPSCs into MN progenitors. Subsequent maturation, for 7 days, leads to homogeneous populations of spinal or cranial MNs. Our method holds several advantages over previous protocols: it is extremely rapid and simplified; it does not require viral infection or further MN isolation; it allows generating different MN subpopulations (spinal and cranial) with a remarkable degree of maturation, as demonstrated by the ability to fire trains of action potentials. Moreover, a large number of motor neurons can be obtained without purification from mixed populations. iPSC-derived spinal and cranial motor neurons can be used for in vitro modeling of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases of the motor neuron. Homogeneous motor neuron populations might represent an important resource for cell type specific drug screenings.